It ain’t easy flying a microlight whilst also trying to get footage of the spectacular views of the Bae de Somme from 2000 feet, especially when your camera has one of those flap out doors that the wind just loves blowing shut, but here’s my best effort…
Of course, Biggles was fictional, but the stories of him flying through the “pea-soupers” for battles in the sky had me gripped as a child. And then a thought occurred to me that I had never read any first world war poetry from any pilots – thinking of the first world war always makes me instantly think of poetry, white feathers and Blackadder Goes Forth.
After a little research, I did find this work by one Jeffrey Day, (1896 – 1918) – an English war poet, killed in an air battle towards the end of World War I over the sea. He was commissioned in 1914 in the Royal Naval Air Service, and rose to an acting rank of flight-commander. He was awarded the D. S. C.. and it is said that he wrote poetry whilst in the air!
On the Wings of the Morning
A sudden roar, a mighty rushing sound,
A jolt or two, a smoothly sliding rise,
A tumbled blur of disappearing ground,
And then all sense of motion slowly dies,
Quiet and calm, the earth slips past below,
As underneath a bridge still waters flow.
My turning wing inclines toward the ground;
The ground itself glides up with graceful swing
And at lane’s far tip twirls slowly round,
Then drops from sight again beneath the wing
To slip away serenely as before,
A cubist-patterned carpet on the floor.
Hills gently sink and valleys gently fill.
The flattened fields grow ludicrously small;
Slowly they pass beneath and slower still
Until they hardly seem to move at all.
Then suddenly they disappear from sight
Hidden by fleeting wisps of faded white.
The wing-tips, faint and dripping, dimly show
Blurred by the wreaths of mist that intervene.
Weird, half-seen shadows flicker to and fro
Across the pallid fog-bank’s blinding screen.
At last the choking mists release their hold,
And all the world is silver, blue and gold.
The air is clear, more clear than sparkling wine;
Compared with this wine is a turgid brew.
The far horizon makes a clean-cut line
Between the silver and depthless blue.
Out of the snow-white level reared on high
Glittering hills surge up to meet the sky.
Outside the wind screen’s shelter gales may race;
But in the seat a cool and gentle breeze
Blows steadily upon my grateful face.
As I sit motionless and at my ease,
Contented just to loiter in the sun
And gaze around me till the day is done.
And so I sit half sleeping, half awake,
Dreaming a happy dream of golden days
Until at last, with a reluctant shake
I rouse myself and with lingering gaze
At all the splendour of the shining plain
Make ready to come down to earth again.
The engine stops; a pleasant silence reigns-
Silence, not broken, but intensified
By the soft, sleepy wire’ insistent strains,
That rise and fall as with a sweeping glide
I slither down the well-oiled sides of space,
Towards a lower, less enchanted place.
The clouds draw nearer, changing as they come.
Now, like a flash, fog grips me by the throat.
Down goes the nose: at once the wire’s low hum
Begins to rise in volume and in note,
Till, as I hurtle from the choking cloud
It swells into a scream, high pitched, and loud.
The scattered hues and shades of green and brown
Fashion themselves into the land I know,
Turning and twisting, as I spiral down
Towards the landing-ground; till, skimming low
I glide with slackening speed across the ground,
And come to rest with lightly grating sound.
If anyone finds a picture of Jeffrey Day, do let me know. Thanks.
And now, just to lighten the mood, are Baldrick’s war poems…